Editor’s Pick: Artist Profiles
Every year, as we compile our list of potential artists that we will feature in our annual issue of Cape Cod ART, we apply a small list of criteria to initially determine whether someone is potentially a good candidate for coverage. At the core is whether the artist has some sort of connection to the region. Did they grow-up here, vacation here or live here?
Another important consideration is whether the artwork is locally available in some sort of setting, either a gallery or in conjunction with a studio. I am a firm advocate for individuals to see the art we write about in person. As hard as we may try, reproducing someone’s creation on a one-dimensional piece of paper will never truly represent its beauty or nuance. And as much as I value the ability to do many things online, personally I find it intimidating and risky to buy art simply through phone, email or website. I suspect some of our audience shares my hesitancies.
So this year, as we searched, examined, and reviewed artists and their work to bring to you in these pages, I found myself returning to an artist that was referred to me by Amanda Wastrom, a friend of Cape Cod Life Publications who knows talent when she sees it. Earlier this year, Amanda was struck by a submission in a Cape Cod Museum of Art show by a Cambridge-based artist named Deidre Tao. Good call because Tao’s work was garnering a lot of buzz from the show. Immediately I yearned to hear her story and present her work in this year’s issue of Cape Cod ART. One problem, unbelievably, Tao was not represented by anyone on the Cape or Islands. Suddenly, my own criteria was being challenged.
Ultimately, I decided to break with my conviction and feature Deidre Tao, and her beautiful paintings, despite my long-held rules. I made the decision to feature her as an Editor’s Pick. I guess rules really are meant to be broken, because it was only a day or two later that another talented painter showed up on my radar. Lyn Coffey has recently moved to Cotuit and brought an incredible body of work with her. If I am willing to break the rules once, surely that would indicate I am a true renegade and two is always better than one.
I am confident you will be charmed by these two artists; by their work, as well as their stories. What I am most concerned about is the decreasing number of galleries on Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Art and the gathering and exchange of ideas are so critical to a vibrant culture, that to imagine the region with a declining community of artists, creators and makers, is not a scenario I care to experience.
My personal wish is that these two artists suddenly experience a wave of interest from collectors as well as gallery owners, but most importantly, I hope you find them as compelling as I have.
Allow me to introduce you to the very first Cape Cod ART Editor’s Picks, Deidre Tao and Lyn Coffey.
– Julie Craven Wagner
“I love painting landscapes of Cape Cod and the Islands,” Deidre Tao, a landscape painter from Cambridge, Massachusetts confesses with evident reverence for her favorite destination. “I love it because there is this timeless quality about the Cape that artists throughout history have expressed with their love for the light, the land and the water by creating beautiful compositions that really resonate with people.” Tao’s subject of choice, but more importantly, a subject she has mastered, is the raw, unadulterated beauty that the Cape offers.
“I really like the relationship between the land, the sky and the water. A lot of different beaches on Cape Cod look so untouched, unlike other places where manmade structures like buildings and boardwalks sit on the natural landscape,” Tao comments. “I’m so glad JKF reserved the Cape Cod National Seashore so the environment is preserved for everyone to enjoy its natural beauty.” For those unable to gaze at the untouched scenes Tao appreciates, one could always acquire one of her large, colorful canvasses and soak it all in.
Tao’s use of color compliments and magnifies the virgin vistas, thus keeping them from being weak and diluted. Her treatment of the sky and how it informs the color of the water and the land emphasizes her passion for the scene with a richly energized palette. “The way that I can use the land, to ground the viewer’s eye on the horizon line allows a dialogue between the sky, the water and the land and holds the composition together,” Tao explains. “That creates a trinity—a trio of a conversation on the canvas.”
Tao’s technique, based in a plein air classic approach, begins with painting and sketching. “I do charcoal and watercolor drawings from life, “ Tao explains. “And then I take the sketch-work back to my studio and work on large-scale paintings.” Tao says of her paintings, often three or four feet in length, “I love to paint big. I like having plenty of room to say what I want.” She uses water-based acrylics for their rich and intense pigments, as well as for their consistency and feel on the brush. “I like to be able to work up layers and use glazing techniques” she says. “I also like the intensity of some of the acrylic pigments. I also like to work as slowly or as quickly as I want when I paint, and acrylics allow me to do that. I feel they give me more control over what and how I create.” That control over timing works in Tao’s favor as she commits to at least one annual solo retreat to a special place like the Vineyard, Nantucket or parts of the Cape. “I will take a few days and stay at a nice inn and just indulge in painting and absorbing the area,” she explains.
Tao, who exhibited artistic qualities from childhood, says her family was very encouraging when it came to pursuing her passion. “I think I have always known that I am a painter,” Tao reveals. A love of art in high school led to acceptance at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth College of Visual and Performing Arts at a time when the school had just merged with the Swain School of Design in New Bedford. The expansion immediately created greater access to studios and professors for the students and Tao says, “It was a good, solid academic training in fine art.” An internship at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) led to employment in their Arts Administration department, which Tao credits for connecting her with her first studio space at a young age.
Today, Tao’s use of color and layers within her landscapes are a vibrant acknowledgement of the coastal environment she so richly celebrates. Beaches across the Cape, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are treated with a sense of wonder as she explores all of the colors available to her. Blues and purples of the beach and ocean melt into crimson and apricot of the sun-streaked sky, making for a visual feast that fills the eyes and feeds the soul.
To learn more about Deidre Tao, visit taofineart.com.
Like a picture within a picture, the sight of plein air artists capturing iconic scenes found across the region are an intriguing encounter on their own. Many artists who paint from life, as it completely surrounds and envelops them, are not socially focused outward, but rather intently studying the scene before them as they interpret it in their own style. Lyn Coffey, a prolific plein air painter is unique in that she highly enjoys the interactions she encounters when painting from life. “When I go out and plein air paint, I am always learning; about the place and about the people,” Coffey says. “A lot of people approach me and I think sometimes I’m so focused they leave me alone, but I’m always happy to chat. People are curious, especially little kids, they’re so sweet and they will always tell you what they think of the artwork. Generally, people are fascinated by the process. The classic reaction is always, ‘I wish I could do that.’ And my response is always, ‘Well, you can actually.’”
The conviction that one can learn something that seems to be wholly rooted in unique natural ability is what has encouraged Coffey to share her talents through teaching. “I’m continuously learning from other artists,” she shares. “I know someone just starting to learn could definitely benefit from the encouragement and support. It doesn’t matter what it turns out like, it’s part of the process and being in that moment is really special.”
Coffey is originally from Connecticut, and from an early age knew that art was the only thing she wanted to do. An early acceptance to Parsons School of Design resulted in being the only school where she applied. A degree in Communication Design and a career in art direction and graphic design gave her the freedom to work from a variety of visually and creatively desirable communities throughout the country. Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Aspen, Colorado; and most recently San Francisco, California provided creative inspiration throughout her life. Now, moving to Cotuit, where her parents decided to retire, Coffey and her mother, Marian Waldron Nicastro, a lifelong artist, create together in events like Cotuit’s annual “Brush Off” event, a plein air fundraiser for The Cahoon Museum.
Coffey’s treatment of subjects in a classic realism style renders an awe-inspiring understanding of light and shadow. A recent 9-by-12-inch painting of a green fishing trawler is a great example of how she can capture a moment and make it last forever. “I was in Chatham and spent hours doing pencil sketches and taking photos. Then went back to the studio and worked on the fishing boat, capturing the light and really working with the shadows which makes the light shine,” she recalls. The result is a captivating scene where her understanding of light and shadow transform a rugged working vessel into a romantic iconic image that will command the attention of everyone entering the space where it will ultimately reside.
Coffey is thrilled to call Cape Cod home now, “The atmosphere on the Cape is so fantastic for artists, it is very supportive,” she states. “Part of the reason for my move here is to become a full time artist, through teaching and sharing. I think that ‘share and exchange’ makes you a better artist, and every artist has their own unique style, so it isn’t about painting in a certain way, but more about exposure to different ideas.”
To learn more about Lyn Coffey, visit lyncoffey.com.